There was an open letter written by an anonymons writer, which was published on medium.com, from someone who said they worked at Irrational Games before the company joined with 2K. This person claimed that Irrational Games was “killed” by 2K Games; that 2K “should do what they do best — stay in the business and marketing side of things. If they would keep their dirty mittens out of development…they would be doing a lot better today.”
I have been a huge fan of Irrational Games and their BioShock series, so when I read that the studio was shutting down, I was devastated. But I can go to Rapture or Columbia anytime, right? It did get me to think, though: Why leave and what happened?
“Anonymous” states they worked for Irrational Games after the merge of the two companies. Before that, Irrational was only ever really known for games such as Freedom Force, SWAT 4, System Shock 2, and a few other indie games that were published through Sierra/EA/Vivendi on an independent studio milestone-based contract.
“The two studios (Boston and Canberra) were remarkably well managed and we were always paid on time. We had a great culture and we loved making great games. We also shared projects back and forth between the studios .” – Anonymous
It was made public in January 2006 that Take-Two Interactive bought Irrational Games. Financially, the independent scene was just not working any longer; the studio needed out. 2K not only made the best offer at the time, but promised off-hand support for Irrational’s future projects.
“This meant they would provide us with the money and resources to run the Boston and Canberra studios to build a hit game (BioShock!), as well as provide marketing and publishing support. We were then left to our own devices to do what we do best — make kick-ass games.”
For the case of BioShock, it worked perfectly; 2K kept mostly out of the development process and the studio profited greatly. So where did it go wrong?
BioShock was released in August 2007, the same time Irrational Games was renamed to 2K Boston and 2K Australia. This was done to help associate the 2K brand with the pending BioShock series.
“Shortly after BioShock was released, rumors arose that many of the staff who had worked on the game were leaving 2K Boston/Australia. In 2007, five members of the 2K Boston team moved to a new 2K Games studio in Novato, California. Soon after, 2K Games announced the formation of 2K Marin in Novato.”
2K Marin then went on to develop BioShock 2 and its hit DLC add-on, Minerva’s Den, with the help of 2K Australia. Later in January 2010, 2K Boston renamed themselves Irrational Games. That’s not confusing, right?
“Although 2K Australia was again renamed , this time by HQ to ‘2K Marin, Australia.’ HQ wanted to take power from 2K Australia and this was one of the ways they did it. The XCOM project was handed to 2K Marin, and Australia was told to follow their lead. 2K HQ wanted to try their hand at game development; this was their chance.”
They messed up their chance. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified absolutely tanked.
In October 2013, 2K Marin was blamed for the failure and closed that same month. Ken Levine, the man behind BioShock, stepped in to save 2K Australia, the studio that was going to be shut down along with Marin. Australia moved onto BioShock Infinite support role at Levine’s request.
“Unfortunately this still cost half the Australian studio , BioShock Infinite could simply not take all the employees. However, with the help of what was left of the 2K Australia studio , again in its position as a support role , BioShock Infinite went on to be yet another a critically acclaimed title.”
Even though it would seem as if things would be looking back up, they were not.
On February 18, 2014 Levine announced per an open letter on the Irrational Games website that most of the studio would be getting laid off with all but fifteen members of the staff losing their positions.
“Basically what had happened was that Ken had been pushed past his limits with the stress of running BioShock Infinite , the team was so huge and unwieldy that he wanted to go back to basics and build a game with a skeleton crew. He basically tried to quit, but 2K said ‘no, don’t go, you can do whatever you want just stay with us.'”
This is the moment where Irrational was truly at a loss. 2K did not manage the situation as well as they should have, if at all. Levine cared about the fans, but he wanted to start his own projects without being tied down contractually. 2K was hesitant. They did not want another financial flop and they did not want to lose the man who actually could pull it all together.
2K and Irrational were a beautiful relationship at first, there’s no doubting that. But greed seeped into the picture and opposing goals were tested. If 2K Games and Irrational Games had split earlier and at the right time, would Irrational still be around? Possibly. The heart and dedication they put in their games did not and has not gone unnoticed.
So, did 2K kill Irrational games? Yes, they did. Could Irrational Games have stopped them, though? Yes, I believe they could have, but in their defense, who knows what 2K would have done if Irrational would have left. Who knows what would have happened to BioShock.
To read the open letter from the anonymous and supposed Irrational Games ex-employee, click here.